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Cut and run? Or stay and build Bangladesh?

May 10th, 2013
11:34 AM ET

By Samuel Burke, CNN

The Bangladesh factory collapse two weeks ago has, at last count, killed over 1,000 people.

The country’s prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, has laid part of the blame for that tragedy on the Western retailers that flock to that country to take advantage of cheap labor.

Minimum wage in Bangladesh is a measly $38 a month, but the heartbreaking images of people being pulled out of rubble could be a catalyst for Western consumers and retailers to insist on better conditions for workers there.

The Walt Disney Company has already pulled out – but is that the right way to make things better? Some of the biggest retailers in the world, like Walmart, H&M, Gap and JCPenney still remain. 

RELATED: Bangladesh's prime minister: 'Accidents happen'

Michael Posner was the U.S. assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor, and he's now starting up the first business and human rights center in this country at New York University’s Stern Business School.

“I don't think what Disney did is right,” Posner told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour. “I think it's important for companies to make a commitment, to stay in countries like Bangladesh, to make a long-term commitment, to work with each other and to recognize that they can't keep running after the cheapest labor cost.”

If American and Western consumers want to help people get out of poverty, it is important for them to have a presence in countries like Bangladesh, according to Posner.

“The reality is there are four-million people, mostly young women, working in these factories in Bangladesh. They're often the only breadwinners in their families,”

Posner believes that the companies there should be working together to make conditions better, instead of competing against each other.

“There needs to be a way in which the companies come together,” Posner said. “Let's say the 100 biggest retailers came together and they said, we have a collective plan. We're going to push the government of Bangladesh to do better. We're also going to contribute to the solution.”

There is a precedent for this type of cooperation. Years ago, Posner worked with little kids stitching soccer balls in a small town in Pakistan.

“Twenty brands came together, the big companies - Adidas, Nike - and they said, we're going to figure this out together, with the World Bank, with the U.S. government.”

They built a stitching center, which Posner said improved conditions and could serve as a model for Western retailers invested in Bangladesh.

RELATED: Amanpour asks Bangladesh's PM for journalist visas 


Filed under:  Bangladesh • Latest Episode
soundoff (7 Responses)
  1. Olim

    Do they have other choices? If you stay may be some 100s may die in some years with disasters like this but, if you don't stay millions will die of hunger!

    May 10, 2013 at 1:28 pm | Reply
    • Claudino

      Yes, Olim, both them and Government have other choices: 1st – Strong laws about safety for workers in the factories;2- more and more effective control on their obedience to those rules. 3- For the factories's owners, thay must start with a new mind on the rights of the workers and new practice of their working conditions namely theur safety and salaries. We, in Europe, pay rather high prices those products which come from slavery: slavery maintained by Western Enttreprises hand in the hand of Pakistan lords and government. We, Westerns can't accept such a humiliant condition of Pakistan workers; we can't approve Pakistan Government Policy. We demand hiher salaries and more and more safety.

      May 11, 2013 at 1:43 pm | Reply
  2. mirajul huq

    The amount of heinous acts this Sheikh Hasina government has committed is rarity in the history of any nation. Sadly Most has past under the radar in world media. But now its opening and i hope it does more so often thanks to Amanpour, CNN
    This ruling party is plagued with corruption, injustice and terrorizing killing people through its student wing. They are literally oppressing people from every front- be it economically, basic living conditions or security.Please highlight these more.Save our country which has such great potential to shine.

    few are:
    stock market scam in 2011 where the 'masterminds' made 5000 crore tk. and took away small investments from millions.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2011_Bangladesh_share_market_scam.
    BDR mutiny where top notch army officers along wiht fmailies were trapped and killed.Total of 150 approx. officers. some incuding Col. Gulzar who were heroes of taking down islamic militants.for almost 3 days no attempts from govt. were taken to save them. conspiracy theory floats but somebody needs to dig it to this mass killing
    Killing of Shagor-Runi prominent journalists and no proper investigation to it.Many other media channels were time and again stopped or banned totally by the govt.
    Handing over Tipai Mukh dam to india
    Padma bridge SCAM
    forcing nobel laureatte Dr. Yunus out of Grameen phone and making very offensive comments about him every other day
    Let's not get into corruption by each minister or the terrorism by Chattra League.
    SOS.

    May 10, 2013 at 4:09 pm | Reply
  3. mh

    this govt. might not do the crimes themselves (other than their corruption and student wing) but not taking apt measures to tackle all the situation makes their motive dubious to public.

    May 10, 2013 at 4:37 pm | Reply
  4. Marcus

    The idea that they would halt subcontracting to Bangladeshi manufacturers can be seen in two separate ways. First, they're genuinely concerned with the ethics of Bangladeshi manufacturers. Second, they see the enormous attention the world is paying to this incident and the outrage expressed in Bangladesh, and only can see rising costs of production due to the inevitable push for improved conditions, including safety. Perhaps both? If Western companies want to do the truly good act, rather than the neutral act of dissassociating themselves from Bangladeshi manufacturers, then they have a responsibility to stay and work with the Bangladeshi government to enforce higher workplace safety standards.

    May 10, 2013 at 6:13 pm | Reply
  5. Plumber

    I'm sorry but I can't agree that these companies seeking out cheap labor are the problem when a building collapses. The problem is the government not having / not enforcing strict building codes. In Florida after Andrew went thru the state looked at the current building codes and set out to make them more strict than ever before. We now have the strictest building codes in the country.

    May 13, 2013 at 11:22 am | Reply
  6. Zubair

    There are Two sides of that whole episode and world body should address them correctly. one side world community should put pressure on Sheikh Hasina to bring all those culprits brought to the justice, on the other side they should support Bangladesh in this moment of needs. by keeping in mind that Bangladesh is the most Cheapest Market in the world and all those big companies are making in Billions by taking advantages of that cheap market. When Bangladesh and it's poor Garment worker are being killed in thousands, they should not left them.

    May 17, 2013 at 11:47 am | Reply

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